When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.
~ Viktor E. Frankl
I’ve come to see that change is like water flowing through a canyon. I can’t stop change from washing over me any more than a canyon can stop water flowing through it. Change shapes and carves the person I am in much the same way as water shapes and carves the rocks that form the canyons. When I struggle against change I encounter resistance much like water crashing into rocks. When I try and hold back change, the tension builds up inside like water trapped by a dam. This struggle creates jagged edges in my psyche, tension in my body, and cracks in the surface of my very being.
When I “go with the flow” and allow change to simply occur, the tension eases, the jagged edges smooth out, and change occurs with much less effort. Change becomes what it is supposed to be, a natural and inevitable force of nature. When I lean into change, and let it move me, I am sculpted into a stronger and more beautiful version of myself. Even the most seemingly difficult changes get absorbed into me and become a living, breathing work of art. I close my eyes and picture vicious storms with raging waters crashing through the canyons, breaking rocks away from their foundations, washing them down river and leaving them to rest elsewhere. There, they become part of their new surroundings… a beautiful, sculptural wonder brought to rest by change. If the canyon was able to fight, if it resisted the water and held onto its rocks, it might crumble entirely and lose its inherent beauty. The water would seep into the cracks and erode from the inside out. But nature knows better. Nature knows that change is part of life and that change offers a chance for new things to bloom.
Despite this new ‘revelation’ about change, you will never hear me say that change is easy. Even when I know that a certain change is good for me, I often resist it, at least at first. I resist because change is scary. Change brings with it the unknown. Change brings with it responsibility, responsibility to make choices for yourself rather than rely on others to point you in the “right” direction. The choice then becomes to accept that change is happening and work with it or to resist and fight against it. I had to make a choice last year when my 16-month-old daughter passed away unexpectedly. Change was knocking on my door, an uninvited guest. I could hide from it, pretend I didn’t hear it knocking, and choose to remain locked inside my dark sanctuary or I could open the door and invite it inside. I chose to let it in.
As I said, this was not easy. I did not want to accept that my baby girl was dead or that I would now go on living with this ache in my soul (even acceptance doesn’t take the ache away completely). I had not invited this change into my life but it was here now. There was no “undo button” so I chose to make the best of a horrible situation. I did this because my daughter deserves to be remembered for the light she was and not the darkness that her death carried with it. The change that I embraced was letting go of the idea that I could not live through this kind of loss, that I was not strong enough to keep living. Change brought with it strength I didn’t know I had. Along with this strength came a deep desire to help others. Change brought with it the understanding that my daughter’s life and death could be lost to time in a sea of anger, depression, and regrets or her life could be honored with love. I chose and continue to choose to honor her with love.
Making this change and choosing to turn something undeniably ugly and painful into something positive was one of the most challenging things I have had to do in my life. It was foreign to me. Familiar territory would have been to be angry and resentful, to hold a grudge against “God”, to curse the very ground that her caretakers walked on. As I sat on the precipice of that dark abyss I realized that losing myself in the darkness would not be helpful to anyone and it would not bring my daughter back.
I have come to understand that people will often stay stuck in an uncomfortable situation simply because it is familiar. They know deep down that change would bring relief and ease their pain but that would mean venturing out into the unknown. Changing would mean giving up the familiar. The familiar is comfortable… change is not. The familiar for me was embracing darkness. I have always been quite comfortable with sadness, vengeance, and anger even when I could feel myself suffocating under the heaviness of carrying their weight. To accept change in the moment of my daughter’s death and embrace love and forgiveness was frightening but I also realized that this change was vital for me. By making this change I was choosing to go on living and not just existing as an empty shell of a person.
I have learned that change forces us to grow and reach beyond what we may have thought was possible. It forces us to look in the mirror, face the reality of ‘what is’, and make a choice. The reality for me was, and is, that changing from someone who held on to anger and sadness into someone who embraces love (even in my darkest moments) I have saved my own life and I have helped others make their way through the dark too.